Culture is King

Guest post By Dr. Linda Sharkey:

customers are important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available
representative.”  The irony of this
message sinks in after the first five minutes on hold. During the next five
minutes, it becomes clear the values of the organization are aligned around
cost savings—with the naive hope you’ll ignore their actions and believe their
words.  Thankfully, there are
organizations that are a delight to do business with, where employees go out of
their way to help you—and help each other. This atmosphere makes you want to
jump for joy and figure out how to clone the whole experience.


difference in these two scenarios is culture. And cultural innovation should be
a top priority for your company. No doubt you have probably experienced workplaces

yelled at their teams. People keep their heads down to  avoid doing something wrong and, as a result,
avoid doing something right. The culture of these places tamps down good ideas
instead of bringing out the best in people.

What about
your organization? Have you ever had someone tell you that your idea wasn’t
good, and then share it as their own? Or say he wants creativity and
innovation, only to criticize every new perspective?

Good ideas
are regularly squashed, never to see the light of day. You get the sense your
boss really does not want good ideas that don’t originate from him. So, as the
employee, you stop and you do as you are told. You know the written rules of
the company really are not true and that your place is to be quiet, follow
orders, and survive if you can.

Here is a
real example from a leader I have worked with that depicts the situation
mentioned above. While I was coaching this leader, he vented that his staff
lacked creativity. He said, “they never have any good ideas
when I ask
for them. They just look at me blankly. It’s so frustrating.”

When we
interviewed his team the picture became clearer. He sent the message to his
employees that he really didn’t want ideas from them. He only wanted his own
ideas. They shared how they wasted lots of time and energy in coming up with
new ideas just to see them go nowhere.

When the team
feedback was shared with the leader he was shocked and did not believe it. He
actually thought he had a lazy and uninspired staff. The staff definitely was
not lazy or uninspired, just extremely frustrated. The boss was creating a

culture of
low accountability and complacency and did not even know it.  This leader thought he valued others ideas but
his behavior telegraphed he did not!  If
this scenario sounds familiar to you as a leader or as a team member you are creating
or working in a toxic culture.  Maybe you
don’t have a boss yelling at you which is toxic enough but you have a boss who
is holding you down!

Cultures that
are toxic by their very nature are not innovative. People in these toxic
organizations lay low, stay out of trouble, and rarely step forward with an
innovative idea or recommendation. If you’re not purposely investing in a
healthy culture, your
business is
already declining, whether you realize it or not.


Culture is
rooted in values. Not the ones on the posters in the hallways but in the values
that really shape the practices of the organization.

Notice the
beautiful value statements on the walls: We are a team. We work to bring great
solutions to our customers. Our people are our most important asset. Integrity
is our core. But when you ask for help you get bounced around.

Bersin and Associates reviewed 6,000 companies
on Glassdoor representing more than 2.2 million employees. They discovered, as
did we, that culture and company values were the biggest driver of a company’s
brand. Our own study of over 500 Fortune 1,000 companies showed that culture
and values statistically had the greatest impact on the company’s brand and
market performance, followed by coaching.

Culture is
also key to a satisfied workforce. In another 2014 study by Glassdoor they
uncovered what people really cared about. Culture
and values. Regardless of income, Glassdoor found these two factors to be the
top predictors of employee satisfaction. 
And as people earned more, culture and values became even more
  Today employees move
around a lot more, and one key driver of why they come to your company is the
values you represent and live.  For
millennials, culture and values is far more powerful. It is the hidden
underbelly that makes people want to work for you and stay.


We’ve all
experienced the toxic leader and we know how demoralizing that can be.
  But the worst part of having toxic leaders is
that they drive a toxic culture.
  Once a
culture embeds toxic behaviors and values – it takes forever to change.
enough, you can change leaders quickly but cultures are so powerful that they
suck the new leaders into quicksand of the old patterns and behaviors.
new leaders either leave or they adapt.
Changing a toxic culture is hard, takes lots of time, energy and money
that most organizations don’t have the luxury of today.


Here’s five
actions you must take to be sure your culture shines in the eyes of employees
and customers:

crystal clear about your company’s core values and never deviate for financial

your leaders behave consistently according to those values and allow no bad

and promote those that live the values – who you hire, promote and reward
speaks volumes about you as a leader and what you really value.

the facts – monitor and measure your culture closely to make sure it reflects
the values.

into your customers and see your values through their eyes – does you brand
live up to your customer commitments.

Dr. Linda Sharkey is the co-author of The Future-Proof Workplace
(Wiley, 2017), and widely acknowledged as one of the world’s prominent thought
leaders on global leadership development. At the foundation of Dr. Sharkey’s
success are years of in-the-trenches experience with some of the world’s
largest and most admired companies, including GE where she was a Senior HR
Executive, building high-performance teams and developing talent that drives
productivity and company growth. As Chief Talent Officer and V.P. People
Development at Hewlett Packard, Dr. Sharkey was responsible for driving the
company’s talent management initiatives, performance management processes
career development, executive staffing, coaching, employee engagement, and
diversity and inclusion efforts.